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Sandy • A bear loomed over Lawrence Hopper's shoulder, paws raised and teeth bared. A rattlesnake sat coiled inches from his ankle. Close by, a wolf, cougar and wolverine the animal, not Hugh Jackman glared hungrily at the Utah Highway Patrol trooper.
But none of them was Hopper's concern. For one, the animals were taxidermied. And besides, the creatures are not Utah's deadliest predators not by a long shot, by UHP's measure.
"When people are going out [for Memorial Day], they're going to be out camping and having a good time with your family, [and] everyone thinks, 'Hey, look out for those rattlesnakes, watch out for those bears, they're going to get you,' " Hopper said, of the fierce menagerie during a Thursday news conference. "And, in reality, statistics show that rattlesnakes and bears and wolves and cougars, the animals you see behind us are not the deadliest predators; but in fact, the deadliest predator is the DUI the impaired driver."
How many Utahns do bears kill on average, based on Utah Department of Health statistics from the past eight years? 0.125. Rattlesnakes, wolverines, cougars, wolves? Zero.
Drunken drivers? 32.
As summer kicks off with the holiday weekend, UHP is hammering home the message to drive safely: wear your seat belt, slow down, and don't drive impaired. Though the message is a perennial one, the timing is rarely more relevant. Summer marks the deadliest season on Utah roadways.
If last year is a predictor, one person will die on Utah roads every day this summer, said UHP Col. Daniel Fuhr. His troopers handle about half those deaths.
"So every single day in Utah, a state trooper, a county deputy, a city officer will knock on somebody's door to deliver the news that their loved one will never return home," Fuhr said. "We're going to try to prevent that this year."
UHP troopers will be working overtime on the highways throughout the weekend. Troopers will also conduct DUI blitzes Friday and Saturday nights.
Seat belts will take a new focus this weekend, too, thanks to a new law. HB79 took effect Tuesday, which makes failure to wear a seat belt a primary offense, meaning officers can stop and cite people for the lapse.
"So we can pull you over, and we will pull you over, for the simple reason to educate you," Fuhr said, "not to give you a citation, it's not about revenue."
Until now, Utah had a "secondary" law for those 18 and older. A $45 ticket could be issued only when an officer stopped a vehicle for another reason.
The new law allows issuing only a warning on the first offense. On the second offense, the $45 fine can be waived if the offender completes an online, 30-minute safety course.